Young paddler in Bellingham nears gold-medal goal

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 4, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Despite feeling a little under the weather on Wednesday, June 4, 11-year-old Elena Wolgamot wasn't going to fall short of her goal: to kayak 450 kilometers (about 280 miles) in a six-week period.

She already completed the 400 kilometers required to receive the gold Barton Bantam Award, which is given to any paddler less than 14 years old that completes 400 kilometers in six weeks.

The award is named after Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton, a Pacific Northwest native. Only four athletes accomplished the gold level of the Barton Bantam award in 2013.

Still, Elena aimed for the 450-kilometer mark and as she entered her kayak feeling ill on Wednesday at Lake Padden, she had 10 more kilometers to go.

After 100 minutes of paddling, Elena headed back to shore.

"Is that it?" Elena's mother, Sara Mostad, asked.

A smile stretched across Elena's face. It was.

Elena had kayaked 450 kilometers, or roughly the distance from Bellingham to Portland, Ore.

"I think it's really big for me," Elena said, "because I've never made big goals of mine. It feels good."

Elena, a sixth-grader at Fairhaven Middle School, started kayaking last June as part of the Bellingham Canoe and Kayak Sprint Team's summer program. She has grown to love the sport, the feeling of the boat gliding through the water and has excelled at it.

In the Pacific Cup, a British Columbia regatta, last fall, Elena swept the U-12 events, taking first in the 200-meter, 500-meter and 1,000-meter sprints.

"She's very athletic, very sweet girl," her coach Dan Baharav said. "She beat everybody. From Seattle to British Columbia, some big-time clubs, she was the best."

The past six weeks have only helped her grow more as a kayaker. Even Barton came out to paddle with Elena on Saturday, May 24, taking a lap with her around Lake Padden before he participated on the winning Boundary Bay Ski to Sea team.

When Elena crossed the 400-kilometer mark on Saturday, May 31, everyone in BCKST joined her last lap and a dozen parents cheered from the shores, which Elena described as "a little much."

Elena paddled about 12 kilometers six days a week and the whole process was challenging and tiring, "but in a good way," Elena said.

"When I got home (after paddling), I was tired and wet and was like 'Ugh, do I have to do my homework?'" she said.

Mostad never pushed Elena to accomplish the task, but Mostad saw a silent motivation from Elena to complete the task.

"It was interesting to watch," Mostad said. "It was cool to see a glimpse of her determination. She kept her eyes on the prize."

Now, Elena and BCKST turn their focus on the Ted Houk Regatta on Saturday, June 7, in Greenlake, before the Bellingham Regatta on Saturday, June 21, at Lake Padden.

Baharav thinks Elena is only the first of the program's many Barton Bantam awards. He hopes to have four of five more kids from BCKST push for an award by the end of this year as Baharav tries to grow the year-old non-profit program.

BCKST hosts five summer camps for kids ages 8 to 18. The first camp starts on Monday, June 23, and no paddling experience is necessary. Each camp costs $125 and includes hands-on teaching two hours per day. To find more information on the camps or BCKST, visit bellinghamcanoekayak.org.

Reach Joshua Hart by email at joshua.hart@bellinghamherald.com or by calling 360-715-2851.

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